05.07.2016 Author: Natalya Zamarayeva

Pakistan and India’s NSG Application

435345345Lately, President Obama has been investing a lot of effort in the development of relations with New Delhi. Apparently, he hopes to use India as a sort of “deterrent” against China. Thus, in June 2016, President Obama announced that India’s application for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) had gained support. He also called upon the NSG member states to support India at the next plenary session. 

Islamabad immediately voiced its concern over India’s prospective accession to the NSG, saying that it would derail the stability in the region. On June 9, 2016, Pakistan forwarded a formal request to the US to support its NSG application as well. While leaving the request pending, the US Department of State stressed that “…any decisions must be taken by the Group collectively…, and, if Pakistan decides to pursue its membership request, the member states would, of course, consider it.” At the same time, the Press Secretary announced a number of conditions Pakistan has to meet: to guarantee that no military strikes will be launched from its territory against India; to reduce tension between the two neighboring countries; to take effective counter-militant measures.

Since August 17, 1947, when Pakistan emerged as a sovereign state, it has been building its foreign policy around national security. In the 1950-60s, Islamabad maintained the balance of power by participating in СENTO and SEATO to ensure military parity with its long-standing opponent, India.

In 1974, New Delhi tested a nuclear device. In response to the “peaceful nuclear explosion,” as it was dubbed at that time, the nuclear powers established the NSG to mitigate the risk of uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear materials, equipment and technologies. The NSG is an international interstate body created to oversee the exports of nuclear supplies. Its objective is to ensure nuclear supplies are traded only for civil, not military purposes.

All members of the Group signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as either the nuclear-weapon states (the USA, Great Britain, France, Russia and China) or non-nuclear weapon states (other member states). India and Pakistan, however, have not acceded to the Treaty as of today, which implies that they are under no obligation to:

– assume legal obligations to participate in nuclear disarmament talks,

– cease the production of fissionable materials for nuclear weapons,

– abstain from conducting nuclear tests.

A nuclear test carried out in the Indian Thar Desert gave neighboring Pakistan a free hand to develop its own nuclear program. In 1975, the country put the creation of an atomic bomb on the list of its priority projects.

By conducting the first official nuclear test in May 1998, India formally declared its accession to the “nuclear club.” Pakistan responded by performing similar tests on May 28, 1998 in the Baluchistan province. It justified its actions with security concerns and the necessity to have a deterrent against potential aggression from its neighbor. It seemed at that time that nuclear parity had been restored.

But Pakistan saw a new challenge to its national security in the Civil Nuclear Agreement signed by Washington and New Delhi in 2008. According to its provisions, India had to assume the same obligations as other states in possession of advanced nuclear technologies while further expanding its nuclear arsenal. Islamabad regarded the Agreement as a violation of the previous ban, pointing out that India was basically given the right to acquire nuclear reactors and fuel. It retaliated by accelerating its Islamic nuclear bomb program.

In June 2016, Pakistan requested that the states in possession of nuclear technologies reconsider granting India membership in the NSG stating that the latter had not been observing all the member state requirements. At the same time, Islamabad expressed concerns over the expansion of strategic ties between New Delhi and Washington. Pakistan believes that maintenance of an effective nuclear deterrence is crucial for its security. According to a statement made by the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan “…the strengthening of the US-India defense cooperation upsets the regional balance of both conventional and strategic armaments. The US has its own priorities in South Asia as well as in terms of a broader context of strategic interests. This prompts Pakistan to continue reinforcing the defense capacity of the country.”

On June 12, 2016, Beijing spoke out in support of Islamabad’s concerns. The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that the admission of new member states to the Nuclear Suppliers Group must be approved by a consensus. It has also underscored that China’s statement was not directed against any particular country that has not acceded to the NPT.

There is no unity among American senators as to the admission of new members to the NSG either. In the course of congressional hearings, Senator Ed Markey pointed out that India’s accession to the Group would trigger a “perpetual” nuclear race in South Asia.

A new round of the fierce struggle for Asia is unfolding, and the US will remain one of the major players in the “Big Game.” To beat China in the strategic rivalry, the US is seriously considering signing a strategic defense agreement with India.

Pakistan, the only Muslim country that could potentially possess nuclear weapons, is also viewed by the West as a key partner. Its geographic location and long-term participation in vital regional events define its key role in the struggle against Islamist extremism, terrorism and spread of drugs. Pakistan is one of the parties to the talks on the stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan. But the consistent efforts of Islamabad in the development of its nuclear program raise the objections of the US.

New Delhi’s NSG application of June 2016 will, apparently, reinforce India’s status as a nuclear power. However, as New Delhi admits itself, it does not comply with all the member state requirements. That means it does not qualify for full membership in the NSG.

President Obama is lobbying India’s interests pleading to consider its membership “as an exception.” If the NSG confirms India’s status as a nuclear-weapon state, it would also demand that India complies with all the standards. That would include entering into negotiations with Pakistan and China on the deterrence of nuclear weapons, and its discontinuation of production of nuclear fuel for military purposes (i.e., for nuclear weapons).

Asia is gradually turning into the main stage where the US and China will be flexing their muscles. One of the main tools the rivals will use in their “competition” is the nuclear programs. Other countries of the region construe Washington’s favoritism toward New Delhi’s NSG application as a demonstration of support for Beijing’s rival. Such actions prompt the parties to reconsider the architecture of the continent’s security, especially in view of the forthcoming US elections. In the post-Soviet period, Washington has had a number of opportunities to win India over, and it has succeeded. In 2008, US President George Bush signed a Civil Nuclear Agreement with India. In 2016, his successor President Barack Obama went one step further and declared his support of India’s NSG membership.

China, in turn, is doing its best to block India’s accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. At the same time, although it is implementing a civil nuclear construction program in Pakistan, Beijing is not considering entering into a nuclear agreement with Islamabad.

Therefore, today we can see clear signs of the division of geopolitical interests in Asia, with China leaning toward Pakistan and India teaming up with the US.  This is the reason why China is taking any and all steps to assure India is not granted membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. To achieve its objectives, China is demanding that New Delhi accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. China and Pakistan see eye to eye on the issue of the deterrence of the nuclear program of their major economic and military rival in Asia. 

Natalia Zamarayeva, Ph.D (History), Senior Research Fellow, Pakistan section, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”